BY LINDSAY BROCK/JUMP MEDIA
Owning or managing a horse is a responsibility that is equal parts caregiver and detective. One of the most difficult aspects of equine ownership and management is that horses can’t verbally explain their pleasure or their pain. Therefore, when health problems arise, horse owners and the veterinarians they trust pull out their magnifying glass and search for clues.
While equine diagnostics have improved exponentially in the last decade, prevention is still the key to horse health. Some injuries can’t be avoided, but with these five tips from the veterinarians of Palm Beach Equine Clinic (PBEC), based in Wellington, FL, keeping a horse in top form is no longer a mystery formula.
- Develop a standard feeding and vaccination program
A horse that is fed well is a horse that will perform well! Horses’ needs often change due to age or environment, but at every stage of life, nutrition is the foundation for equine health and longevity. Nutrition counseling from a veterinarian is one of the most helpful tools available to horse owners and helps them to avoid some of the most common mistakes made when feeding horses. Whether it’s a protein or glucose deficiency, excessive grain, too little zinc or copper, or improper calcium, equine veterinarians can pinpoint what a horse does and does not need to develop a consistent and effective feeding schedule for each specific horse.
Hand in hand with standardized feeding practices is a thorough and regular vaccination program. Dr. Kathleen Timmins of PBEC is often asked why proper equine vaccination protocols are imperative for all horses, and her answer speaks most directly to the welfare of the horse.
“You could save your horse’s life!” she said. “It is really important from an infectious disease standpoint, but also for mosquito-borne diseases or rabies; these are diseases that are life-threatening for lack of a reduced cost vaccine. Vaccinations are an easy and relatively inexpensive way to prevent infectious disease outbreaks and keep our horses healthy and safe”
According to Dr. Timmons, recommended vaccination protocols vary by the location of the horse, but the core group of vaccines is relatively standardized. As a rule, horses should receive vaccines to prevent against mosquito-borne diseases like Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) and Western equine encephalitis (WEE) Tetanus, and West Nile virus twice a year. Also included in the twice-a-year vaccination schedule is a Flu/Rhino dose. In addition to vaccinations given twice a year, annual vaccinations include those to prevent Rabies, Strangles, and Potomac Horse Fever.
PBEC recently made vaccinations even easier with the introduction of their Equine Wellness Program. The program aims to ensure that the horses under PBEC care remain healthy and happy year-round at an affordable rate. Their vaccination bundle offers the most common injections, deworming, and a physical exam at a significant discount.
- Remember that dentists aren’t just for humans
Dental problems are a bigger issue among equines than most owners realize. According to a study conducted by North Carolina State University, approximately 40% of horses have significant dental problems. PBEC’s own Dr. Tyler Davis believes that routine and thorough dental exams may prevent these conditions from ever becoming real issues. The mouth is the first part of the horse that is taking in and processing food, and uneven wear of a horse’s teeth may cause sharp edges, which hinder efficient chewing and may ulcerate or lacerate the cheeks and tongue, thus causing incomplete mastication and sometimes leading to problems like colic.
While floating, rasping or filing a horse’s teeth to ensure an even, properly aligned bite plane, is the physical process, the scope of equine dentistry is much broader and examines the horse’s overall health as influenced by the mouth. According to Dr. Davis, having a horse’s mouth perfect allows one to immediately rule out dental issues when trying to troubleshoot a performance problem.
“A really good dental exam with a speculum, a very good light source, and a dental mirror allows you to see possible problems and prevent those problems from becoming painful and affecting your horse’s overall health and performance” said Dr. Davis.
Dr. Davis recommends a check-up from an equine dentist every 12 months at the very minimum. In many sport horses, the fact that they are working at such a high level may require bi-annual exams to prevent any problems that could sideline them from training or competition. Lastly, horses with known dental problems may require exams every three to four months.
Dental care is also included in PBEC’s Wellness program, again offering significant savings on a routine float and free nutrition counseling.
- Correct Farriery: No Hoof, No Horse
Any true horseman will admit that success in any discipline of horse sport is dependent on healthy hooves. PBEC proudly offers the most advanced equine podiatry services to referring veterinarians and its own clients. The equine hoof is unique, as it is comprised of a group of biological structures that follow the laws of biomechanics. To that end, the farrier is a major asset during the show season as he or she can be proactive in maintaining the health of a horse’s foot and help to prevent lameness.
There are three very important aspects of farriery science that the farrier will use to keep any horse sound:
- The trim: Trimming to achieve a straight hoof-pastern axis, using the widest part of the foot, which correlates to the center of rotation, and trimming the palmar foot (heels) to the base of the frog or to the same plane as the frog.
- Center of rotation (COR): As the COR is located a few millimeters behind the widest part of each foot, it allows the farrier to apply appropriate biomechanics to each foot.
- The heel: Heels do not grow tall, they grow forward. If heels migrate forward, the soft tissue structures will be forced backward out of the hoof capsule.
As veterinary technology continues to improve, veterinarians are able to look beneath the surface in an effort to solve lameness issues, treat injuries, and offer answers to their clients. On the staff of more than 30 veterinarians at PBEC, board-certified Radiologist Dr. Sarah Puchalski has the best in diagnostic equipment at her fingertips.
PBEC’s arsenal of diagnostic technology includes an Equine Standing MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), a Nuclear Scintigraphy camera, and one of the few equine Compute Tomography (CT) machines in the country.
- The Equine Standing MRI produces highly detailed images in several different planes to capture a complete image of a desired area. An MRI is best used to further define a specific area of both bony or soft tissue that has been pinpointed as the origin of lameness.
- The process of Nuclear Scintigraphy is essentially a bone scan that begins with the injection of a radioactive isotope, specifically named Technetium 99. The isotope attaches to the phosphorous proteins localized within the bone and is absorbed. A specialized nuclear isotope gamma ray camera is then used to capture images of the skeletal anatomy with a 360-degree view. Points of interest “light up” on the image to indicate increased metabolic activity and the site of injury.
- The CT utilizes X-rays to produce a cross-sectional image of a desired area on a horse. The image produced is digital and can be computer-manipulated with zoom, rotating, and measurement. Overall the CT gives veterinarians the unique opportunity to conveniently explore areas of a horse’s body that they were not otherwise able to see
Thousands of images are read each year at PBEC. In addition to being state-of-the art diagnostic tools, the technology also affords economic benefits to owners.
“If a horse goes lame and it gets seen and treated empirically, which is a diagnosis based on likely problems through common diagnostic procedures, it either stays sound or it becomes lame again or even non-functional in three to six months,” said Dr. Puchalski. “This method sets back the commencement of the appropriate therapy. The biggest benefit of this technology to the sport horse community is accessibility. Anyone can walk from the horse show to the clinic, go straight in, straight out, get results fast, and then their training program can be changed immediately.”
- Consider alternative therapies
The inclusion of alternative
therapies into standard horse care has experienced a boom in recent years. It’s
no longer uncommon for a horse owner to have their equine chiropractor or
acupuncturist on speed dial. Whether it’s for an Olympic hopeful or a reliable
trail horse, PBEC proudly offers chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture, and
Chinese herbal medicine to bring out the best in their patients.
Veterinary chiropractic manipulation is thought to optimize equine health by restoring normal joint motion, reversing mild pathology, and helping to slow the progression of degenerative joint and spine disease.
Acupuncture is a form of treatment used in both traditional and classical Chinese medicine based on the principle that there are energetic pathways, or channels, throughout the body that influence associated internal organs and structures. Energy from these pathways surface at various points on the body, identified as acupuncture points. Extremely fine-gauge needles are inserted at selected points, stimulating these points and thereby activating the body’s natural healing abilities.
Finally, an adaptation of all-natural methods used to treat humans, herbal medicine for animals utilizes ancient Chinese formulas aimed at understanding and treating the underlying causes of a particular disease or illness in order to help the body heal itself, rather than only treating the presented symptoms.
Alternative therapies are
complementary treatments for lameness problems and other issues. They are
alternative methods and do not replace conventional veterinary medicine or
surgery, but can be very useful in maintaining top performance levels in your
“The line between success and failure is very thin for performance horses, and a lot of these alternative therapies can be very useful in giving the horse that little bit more,” PBEC’s own Dr. Richard Wheeler. “They have proven to help keep horses comfortable, happy and performing well.”
Palm Beach Equine Clinic provides experience, knowledge, availability, and the very best care for its clients. To find out more, please visit www.equineclinic.com or call 561-793-1599. “Like” them on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, and get news from their Twitter to see what happens in Wellington and more!